Monday, September 26, 2016

read | Dear Mr. M

If there's one thing Herman Koch's books have in common, it's that they're about terrible people doing horrible things. Dear Mr. M is no exception. It starts out from a stalker's perspective, which reminds me of You by Caroline Kepnes (and if you liked that you'll like this and vice versa). As more bits and pieces of the story are revealed, you learn that the target of the narrator's attention is an author who wrote a fictionalized version of a crime in which the narrator was allegedly involved. The story jumps back and forth between perspectives and has some meta elements, referencing some authors' tendencies to build up to a suspenseful moment only to abruptly change the scene. And then he abruptly changes scene. This novel is full of cynical (and accurate) observations of society. I've also read The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool by this author, and I have to say Dear Mr. M is definitely my favorite. It has a bit of a Secret History (Donna Tartt) / Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff) vibe. Not that those two are really related, but my impressions while reading them were pretty similar to Dear Mr M. It may have something to do with the gradual reveal of information, but whatever it is I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book through Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

play | Punderdome

Punderdome isn't a book, though as I type this I realize that would be awesome. Anyway, Punderdome is a game for anyone who likes terrible jokes (or who pretends to hate them but secretly loves them anyway). The basic idea of the game is pretty much what it sounds like - you make terrible puns. There are two decks of cards, so you draw a card from each and try to make the best pun that involves those two things. Technically there's supposed to be a judge who decides which pun wins, but can anyone really lose? There are also pun-based jokes on the backs of all the cards. Or the fronts, since the rules call for the judge to read the setup and the contestants to come up with an answer to stat of each round. The first team to shout out a pun gets bonus time in the actual game. But if you're like me and don't always want to adhere to an hourglass or a phone timer, you can just use it as a warm-up. We never used the time limit for the real rounds, either. I think the official timekeeping centered on "is the judge sick of waiting for you to be done."

This game is nice and portable in a relatively small box, so it's great if you want to take it on vacation or to a party. Whether you follow the rules to a tee or make up your own game altogether, Punderdome is a fun and unique game.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Monday, August 1, 2016

read | Women in Science

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky is a great introduction to learning about, wait for it, women in science. The book is beautifully illustrated, with a two-page spread for each scientist. The pictures are studded with fun facts and key phrases about each woman. This book reminds me of Headstrong by Rachel Swaby, which I've also reviewed on this blog. This is the gateway book to Headstrong. I also think if you have to pick one, go with Women in Science. Headstrong had enough information about each scientist to leave you wanting more, but I prefer the more general information in Women Science, even if it isn't quite as thorough. Plus, it has pictures. This book is a gorgeous and digestible read, and it'd be great for anyone with a passing interest in science. Or no interest. Seriously, this book is so cool.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

read | Jefferson's America

Jefferson's AmericaThe Hamilton bug recently got to me, so I was in the mood to read some American history. Jefferson’s America by Julie M. Fenster seemed like a good surrogate. A founding father is a founding father, right? And the cover didn’t hurt, either. I love the hand-drawn map effect, and it’s not your typical cover that’s just a portrait of the person the book is about, the reason for which soon became clear. I guess I should have seen this coming since the subject of the title is technically America, but my Hamilton-addled brain only saw the Jefferson part. I thought it would be a book about Jefferson’s presidency. It’s actually much more about the different expeditions that Jefferson sent to find and set borders for the United States. The book goes into the relationships between the travelers and the people they encounter. It’s interesting to see the interactions with Native Americans, the French, and the Spanish, because the groups all want the same land but are also happy to get along if possible. Kind of. It definitely feels like we see the travels in terms of people rather than through dry descriptions of geography and surveying.

This book covers several exploration quests, and it could feel repetitive after a while but the author sprinkles in enough loony stories to keep things interesting. Seriously, some bizarre stuff happens on these adventures. It took me about a month to read the 368-page book, though I’ll attribute that to (a) a bit of a reading slump I’ve been in lately and (b) nonfiction being more of an aspirational genre for me. If you are trying to start reading more nonfiction, you might want to pick a more thrilling topic. However, if you’re interested in the time period (the beginning of the 19th century) or the topic, Jefferson’s America is a good one to check out.

3 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, May 13, 2016

read | Spritz

SpritzSpritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau is a lovely book even if you just want something for your coffee table. Or, maybe more appropriately, your bar cart. The book is about the history of the spritz, an Italian drink, and how it ties in with Italian culture. Spritz also includes several recipes for variations on the cocktail. But the real selling point for me is the imagery. The cover has a cool retro vibe that carries through on the title page for each section. The book also features vibrant photography, including pictures of some of the drink and snack recipes.
The format of this book starts with a narrative of how the spritz originated and evolved. The conversational style of writing carries through to the recipe sections, where many of the drinks are paired with entertaining descriptions of their origins. I think this book has value as a read-through and as a reference book. It does provide recipes, but it also gives you the bones of a spritz so you can come up with your own variations on the drink while making sure they're in keeping with the spirit (pun intended) of the cocktail. I don't even have much of an interest in the drink, but I found this book entertaining and informative. It's currently on display in my kitchen, so it's great for decorating, too. Whether you enjoy a cocktail or a peek into another culture, this book is a great one to pick up.

5 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

read | The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris BookshopThe Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is the story of a man, Jean Perdu, coming to terms with the end of a past relationship. It says this on the back so I don’t think it’s too spoilery, but he finally reads a letter his lost love sent him twenty years before in which she tells him she’s dying (and therefore long dead by the present day). Upon learning this, the shop (well, boat, really) owner heads down the Seine in pursuit of closure. This book is pleasant enough, and the characters are pretty likable. Nothing about this book really stands out to me. The cover is a hazy pink, and that sums up my feelings about the story. It’s an easy, simple read that doesn’t require much of the reader. I found it hard to connect to the past romance, told through Perdu’s recollections and some journal entries by the woman. Perdu is still grieving, and a loss so deep it took him twenty years to get past should have some emotional impact for the reader. The story would move on to some character development or minor plot point and then suddenly jump back into Perdu’s pain, which I didn’t care about. I do see why these moments keep popping up, since grief can reappear when you least expect it, but they always threw me out of the current story. While this book won’t be making any favorites shelves for me, it has enjoyable characters and moments of great writing (though I might be biased because I’m a sucker for pretty much any description of the water). This is a nice read perfect for the upcoming summer.
3 out of 5 stars
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

read | The Never-Open Desert Diner

I have pretty much no interest in trucking, and now I've read two books this year on the subject. First was The Quality of Silence, and now I'm reviewing The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson. The books have a similar vibe and element of suspense, though QoS is in Alaska while NODD is in the desert of Utah. This book is about Ben Jones, who delivers goods to people along an isolated highway. It shows his relationships with each of his weird customers, and he eventually stumbles on to a woman hiding from her husband. The plot unfolds from there. The story is fine. My main issue is with the main character. He comes across as a bit of a stalker early in the book. He's also adored by everyone, and since the book is in first person, it comes across as arrogance. His superior emotional capacity or whatever is summed up in a line - "There aren't many men who would take the risk you did in telling me how you felt." Ew. Can you feel the admiration? I do love the cover of this book, though some of the pages were randomly speckled and splotchy. Everything was legible, but there's still a quality control issue.
OK, now I'm about to enter spoiler territory. You've been warned. NODD is a decent story, though I don't think Ben's relationship with Claire is developed enough. Ben does say they have a special bond that makes them close, but that doesn't count. I don't really buy the whole cello plotline, but if you suspend your disbelief it's tolerable.

2 out of 5 stars

I received this boom from Blogging for Booms for this review.